Where we are and what we can do
Readers these past few months will have noticed my mounting concern regarding the political changes taking place in our nation. I certainly have noticed yours. The things that I’ve written so far for this best paper (forgive my unapologetic bias), can be found online at www.kenwoodpress.com; you can read my evolving thoughts and feelings there, as events unfolded.
There’s been reason for my increasing apprehension, and yours: our world is now in deep disarray. Many of us are emotionally depleted, exhausted by what’s become a perpetual cascade of missives from the White House that are calculated to pull oxygen from the air, and to keep our reactions off balance. The reckless reasoning and brutal rhetoric – from the current administration, from congress, and throughout some of social media in response – has churned public discourse, and traumatized the nation.
Living life well is hard to do under uncomfortable circumstances. Wellness is not always pleasant, or graceful – it can involve effort, and tears. All the standard recommendations for managing stress are useful – following your breath, making kindness your routine, and remembering the bigger picture – but the situation today requires reply, rather than mere acceptance and endurance. Like most of you, bruised, I’ve been working to understand what is happening to our country, and how best to respond.
Despite the denial of many, a climate change is clearly happening – a geopolitical one, in pace with the geophysical one taking place throughout the world. In her current book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein focuses upon the role capitalism plays in the change. Capitalism has metastasized, I fear, into a particularly selfish, virulent form of plutocracy – not only here, but certainly here. There is, after all, a great difference between stewards who care for the planet and raiders who plunder not just the planet but its people as well.
The current administration does not speak for me, though it may rule my government. There are recognizably sinister forces at work that take inspiration from a book titled The Fourth Turning. Strauss and Howe speak, in this book, of a gathering dread and decay that cyclically reaches catharsis in a destructive conflict every 80 years or so. They tell us that our country began with one such crisis, the American Revolution, followed by the Civil War and World War Two. Now, they believe – and would have us believe – we are on the threshold of the fourth great war.
I, for one, don’t buy it – nor the fascination some have with an impending Armageddon. And yet, without becoming careless in our excitement or paralyzed by fear, we must not be in denial about what’s taking place in Washington, nor can we afford to wait to see what happens. These are significant times, but we must not let them make our voices insignificant. Government is capable of criminal injustice, marginalizing and manipulating the rights and opportunities of those that seem different. We must not be confused and reactive, hating those who hate, but learn to become deliberate and responsible, speaking up and speaking out as we meet this situation.
A vigorous, exhilarating ferment of public discourse crosses my desk these days – petitions and entreaties for public response to various challenges. But we must understand that we are dealing with various symptoms of a deeper disease, and until that is recognized we’ll only be shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. We are at an enormous crossroads here; it’s time to pause, to get our bearings, to drill down to the bedrock of our fundamental values, and let those support our choices. Wonderful examples of this are taking place right here, in the Valley the Moon.
A few weeks ago I spoke at an event sponsored by the Sister Cities Association in Sonoma, in coordination with their sister city Penglai, in China. I was asked to talk about the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1884, which legitimized institutional racism but was finally repealed when China became an important wartime ally against Japan in 1943. Diplomatic ties had shifted, and so our national antagonism shifted from the Chinese to the Japanese. A pavilion known as a “ting” or “peaceful shelter” is now being planned in Sonoma, in recognition of the contribution the Chinese made to our local history.
And here in Glen Ellen an extraordinary experiment in government by consensus has begun taking place. Town hall meetings each month have brought people together to voice their concerns and form committees towards local solutions for local problems – in a bottom up form of government, away from totalitarianism and towards community. Throughout Sonoma Valley, citizens are coming together, speaking up, and reaching out to one another, and across the ocean to others.
It is always sad to see how relationships between peoples of different cultures can be so distorted by governments composed of and driven by adversarial politics and economies. America’s exceptionalism, based as it is upon liberty, egalitarianism and individualism, suffers at the hands of those who believe it means that we are the best of all nations, promoting exclusivity over inclusivity.
Our excellence lies in finding excellence in others, and working together. We are, after all, a nation of intermingling minorities, all braided together – though perhaps, from time to time, fraying a bit here and there. Every voice is to be found and raised against authoritarianism, and heard; in this way, in the face of these hard times, it can be said that – nevertheless – we persisted.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet, and executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com.